There is an ongoing debate on the use of Capital Punishment. Discuss the social, moral, and historical aspects of this controversial topic
Capital punishment is seen as the act of killing an individual as a form punishment given to a particular crime. The act is carried out by a lawful hearing in a court of law. Capital punishment applies to cases of murder, but some countries apply capital punishment for fraud, adultery, and treason against the crown. Its use varies in many countries worldwide. Those who use capital punishment often justify their actions with the argument that such harsh punishments will deter prospective murderers from commit the act of murder.
The use of capital punishment goes back “to early English common law, where virtually any person convicted of a felony offence faced a mandatory death sentence, but the practice has always been much more widespread in the [United States, rather] than in the United Kingdom, which abandoned capital punishment in 1973” (Marcus 2007). In 1896 America’s first serial killer, Herman Webster Mudgett’s was executed because he operated a hotel that he called the “Murder Castle,” and entice women, through sexual relationships, to take out life insurance policies with him as the primary beneficiary. Once he had them involved, he tortured and killed them, dissected their bodies, and sold the skeletal remains to medical schools for research. Mudgett confessed to twenty-seven murders, but it could have been more, he was tried and hanged.
In such a case, one could readily identify with the ultimate punishment of death as it relates to the inhumane way he took the lives of innocent victims. His sadistic and premeditated actions placed the rest of the society in fear that anyone could be the next victim. By law, the government is bound by law to protect the safety of all its citizens. With the likes of Mudgett on the streets, there is no way that the state can guarantee the safety and protection of the citizens.
Nevertheless, human rights groups and civil libertarians of the society view the act of killing as being inhumane. These groups have argued for an end to any form of killing regardless of the nature of the crime and would condemn the killing of Mudgett. But, what else can be done? The logical arguments presented against capital punishment are that rehabilitation occurs regardless of the crime. Nevertheless, the flaw in such reasoning is that twenty-seven murders can only be planned and cannot be accidental, and a planned punishment is the only solution.
Still, there are still those in the society who believe that the only way to stop the worldwide increase in murders is to continue with capital punishment as a means of deterring others who may want to commit these crimes. The issue of whether or not capital punishment is based largely on the moral, social and historical foundations will remain debatable as the society is overrun by sadist, who have very little regards for the value of the life of a person and as such their lives are invaluable. Presently, reports have shown that nearly 2000 persons in the Unites States alone await their death on death row. Their crimes vary, but the punishment fits the crime. It is not likely that these executions will become public news items as capital punishment is now a routine act – killers are killed. Supporters of capital punishment defend their arguments by making it clear that society has a moral duty to look after the wellbeing and interests of its people. Those who commit murders threaten these wellbeing and interests of the people. The only alternative is to rid the society of these murderers so that they do not kill again.
Similarly, there are those who are of the opinion that capital punishment brings out the balance of good over evil, which is necessary for the society’s order. The society will benefit from capital punishment as it may discourage murderers from continuing to commit violent crimes. While it is hard to find supporting evidence to this claim that those who die by capital punishment can in no form commit any other murders, it is easy to argue that the well thinking individual who knows that death is unavoidable if they commit murder will be unwilling to perform that act. Michigan State University (2000) cites Ernest van den Haag (1986) position “Execution of those who have committed heinous murders may deter only one murder per year. If it does [that], it seems quite warranted. It is also the only fitting retribution for murder I can think of.”
Andre and Velasquez (n.d), on the other hand, states that if “the death penalty does not deter, and we continue to impose it, we have only sacrificed the lives of convicted murderers” and not the victims. Still it is better to act on the belief that it is a deterrent to even some would-be murderers in an effort to save the lives of innocent people more than to take a gamble that it does not stop them and, as a result protects the lives of murderers, while placing innocent people at risk.
Capital punishment produces an unacceptable connection between the law and violence in the society. However, the law is inevitably connected to the violence that is evident in the society as it serves to punish violent crimes by using sanctions that 'violently' curb the freedom of the perpetrator’s freedom. Nonetheless, a strong case can be made that legal violence is distinct to criminal violence. When capital punishment is used it can be fair and logical to everyone irrespective of race or class.
Supporters against capital punishment claim that there is no concrete evidence to support the arguments that capital punishment limits the acts of violence more so than life imprisonment. Researches over the years have compared the murder rates of the countries with the legalization of capitalization against those counties that do not have laws that allow capital punishment. The results show that the rate of murder is not related to whether the death penalty is in force, as there are as many murders committed in countries that legalize capital punishment as in those without capital punishment. As such, it is the moral obligation of the society to remove the use of capital punishment as a form of deterring criminals from committing murders.
One may argue that capital punishment is not the only way to protect the society from future. If these murderers are locked away for life, the same results are the same and there is no need for taking a life. In reality, a life sentence runs of approximately forty years with the likelihood of parole before the required number of years. Murderers are allowed the pleasures of enjoying the hard earned money paid in taxes by the society and even the families of the victims. One can argue logically that the murderers are being paid for their services as they reap the benefits of a society that they once terrorized. These ideas lead to the arguments made by advocates against capital punishment that the act is largely one of revenge and is not morally justified but only plays out one aspect of the Bible “an eye for an eye” and not reinforce the commandment, “thou shalt not kill”. The reality, however, is that capital punishment is the only moral principle that allows killers to receive the most serious form of punishment for the serious acts that they commit.
In many cases, juries have been known to make mistakes by sentencing innocent persons to die. Warden (2009) states that “Of approximately 7400 men and women sentenced to death under state laws , 135 have been exonerated and released” (Warden, 2009). He further notes the “number, of course, does not reflect the actual extent of the problem of wrongful convictions in capital cases” (Warden, 2009). In light of these findings, one can argue that the death penalty is questionable as “wrongful convictions greatly exceed the number of exonerations” (Warden, 2009).
It these persons were allowed to live, the wrong conviction could be righted and their lives not wasted, but the arguments against such ideas are strong enough to question whether or not rehabilitation is guaranteed or not. However, death is final for everyone. To take a life legally or illegally is equal. Death diminishes the value of life. Who determines whose life is taken? At the end of it all, are we just killers operating under the law?
In concluding, capital punishment imposes a cost to the society because it wastes human lives. One may say that a number of those who receive death sentences could be rehabilitated to live meaningful lives in the society. Nevertheless, by implementing the death penalty, the society ultimately destroys the anticipation of any good deeds that these persons can do for the society. Others may argue that rehabilitation is not for everyone, and that is so but, if the society does not try to rehabilitate criminals, then they will never certain that rehabilitation does not work. Some advocates against capital punishment, argue that the cry for revenge from society. All in all, taking unlawful taking of a life should not go unpunished.
- Andre, Claire and Velasquez, Manuel, (n.d.) Capital Punishment: Our Duty or Our Doom? http://www.scu.edu/ethics/publications/iie/v1n3/capital.html Accessed: April 21, 2014
- James Fieser (2011), Capital Punishment from Moral Issues that Divide Us https://www.utm.edu/staff/jfieser/class/160/7-cap-pun.htm Accessed: April 21, 2014
- Lair, Kevin, (2013) The Elm - Death Penalty Debate: Columnists Respond – The Death Penalty Saves Lives, Go Figure http://elm.washcoll.edu/index.php/2013/04 Accessed: April 21, 2014
- Marcus, Paul, (2007) “Capital Punishment in the United States and Beyond”, Faculty Publications,, Paper 61. http://scholarship.law.wm.edu/facpubs/61
- The Death Penalty – High School Curriculum – Arguments for and Against The Death Penalty(2000) http://deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu/
- Warden, Rob, (2009) Reflections on Capital Punishment, 4 Nw.J.L.& Soc. Pol’y.329 http://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/njlsp/iss2/2
- Arguments against capital punishment http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/capitalpunishment/against_1 Accessed: April 21, 2014